Become a Color Master: Part One - The Basics

Become a Color Master: Part One - The Basics

In high school, my friends and I created this running list of rules to live by, including: 

“Mom is always right.” 
“Real couples should not be partners in quinceañera courts, because people break up.” 
“The color green is evil. And purple is too”

As an adult, I can tell you our rules were right - green IS evil - but it didn’t have to be if we had known our color theory. We were working on a mural, and the green paint never seemed to be opaque, dark, light, or anything else for that matter, enough. 

It wasn’t until six years later when I took my first design class that I learned why. You don’t need to have formal training to be a great artist or pick up the hobby of painting, so I want to share some color tips you might not know to help lessen the number of times you need to say “why isn’t this working?” After all, at Dynamic Distractions, we believe art should be soothing, restorative, and fun!

T H E   B A S I C   B A S I C S:

What We Need To Know Before the Application Tips

Color Wheel

T h i s   i s   t h e   c o l o r   w h e e l.  You might recognize it, but maybe you’ve never learned how to use it. Katelyn already wrote a great article about how colors are a great way to process emotions, now let’s talk about how to get those different colors.


P R I M A R Y   C O L O R S

Rival Rams

Depending on whom you ask, the primary colors are:

Red, Blue, and Yellow (RBY)
Cyan, Yellow, and Magenta (CYM)

A h   y e s,   a   r i v a l r y   a s   o l d   a s   t i m e.  Want to start a bar fight? Walk into an art gallery mixer and announce with authority that you are team RBY or team CYM. I won’t get into the science here, but it has to do with light versus pigment. Let me know in the comments if that’s something you want to know more about and maybe I can cover the science in a future post.

Technically, these are the colors you can’t get mixing any other colors together - think prime numbers in math. I say technically because when talking about paint, made from pigments, you can get red and blue from CYM...I think you can guess which team I’m on.


S E C O N D A R Y   a n d   T E R T I A R Y   C O L O R S 

Secondary colors are the colors you get when you mix two primary colors together: 

Orange, Green, and Purple (RGB) 
Red, Blue, and Green (CYM). 

Tertiary colors are the colors you get when you mix a primary and secondary color together.


C O M P L I M E N T A R Y  C O L O R S

Complimentary colors are colors opposite each other on the color wheel:

Red and Blue
Purple and Yellow
Magenta and Green

And so on…

Notice how pleasing those colors look when paired with their compliment.


I ’ m   g o i n g   t o   e n c o u r a g e   y o u   t o   p r a c t i c e  some of these mixing tips, and a great place to do that is in a sketchbook. If you keep your swatches/guides in the same place, you can reference them whenever you are painting. Trust me. It saves a lot of time in the future. I've been painting for years and still pull out my swatches from time to time.

I   s u g g e s t   u s i n g   t h e   Spiral Bound Watercolor Pad for Wet, Dry, and Mixed Media! This sketchbook is great because the 140lb paper can handle all your mediums, and it has both smooth and textured surfaces in the same book. This means you can try mixing all your usual supplies in the same place on different surface types to reference. I like that it’s spiral bound because it takes up less space on my workstation when turned on itself.

T r y   p a i n t i n g   t h e  c o l o r   w h e e l   o n   y o u r   o w n  by mixing primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Nail this down and you are well on your way to having all the colors at a much smaller cost! Use whichever medium(s) you like best. 

Pro tip: I suggest cadmium red deep, cadmium yellow, and ultramarine blue in whichever brand and medium. These are the closest pigments to primary red, yellow, and blue.

Next, I’ll be writing about black and white paint options along with color shades.

By: Brittney Espinoza

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